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Day after crowning Phillies, baseball is back to business

October 31, 2008|BILL SHAIKIN | Shaikin is a Times staff writer.

The off-season lasted from midnight to morning. By the time Cole Hamels finally rolled out of bed Thursday, snippets of news already had started to appear on television and computer screens: The Milwaukee Brewers hired Ken Macha as manager, the Chicago White Sox bid farewell to Ken Griffey Jr., the Florida Marlins traded Mike Jacobs to the Kansas City Royals, and 65 players filed for free agency, with Manny Ramirez and Mark Teixeira at the head of the parade.

The Philadelphia Phillies get their parade today, and the cleanup might still be going on when these words cross your screen: The San Diego Padres have traded Jake Peavy. The general managers of all 30 teams convene in Dana Point starting Monday, and Kevin Towers could send one of his colleagues home with Peavy.

A few thoughts on the season that was, and on the off-season to come:

* Now closing for the Dodgers: Francisco Rodriguez?

If the Dodgers miss out on Ramirez and CC Sabathia -- and they are unlikely to be the high bidder on either one -- perhaps they would turn to Rodriguez as their prize in free agency.

The market for Rodriguez appears to be limited, and he is believed to prefer Southern California. If the Dodgers' starting rotation is going to include three youngsters in Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and James McDonald, they might be best served by building their pitching staff from the back end of an already strong bullpen.

With Rodriguez joining Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel, Hong-Chih Kuo and Cory Wade, the Dodgers could dare opposing teams to grab the lead after five innings or try to beat that bullpen.

* The team that will get the best bargain in free agency is the one that signs outfielder Juan Rivera to play every day. You give him 500 at-bats, and he'll give you 25 home runs.

The Angels never gave him that chance. The Atlanta Braves would be a good fit.

* The Tampa Bay Rays got into the World Series with the lowest player payroll in the American League, knocking off baseball's biggest spenders -- the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox -- in the process.

If baseball wants to celebrate parity, however, the leaders of the sport had better hope the Rays sustain their success rather than disappear as one-year wonders.

The Rays got close to $40 million this year in revenue sharing, putting it to smart use by opening academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, adding a seventh minor league team and signing young stars such as Evan Longoria, Scott Kazmir and James Shields to long-term contracts before their salaries could rise steeply in arbitration.

"We owe the large-market clubs a debt of gratitude for providing some of that parity and closing that gap," Rays President Matt Silverman said, "but that gap is still pronounced."

The Rays also want a new ballpark. They almost had a proposal on the November ballot, and their October surprise could have carried the measure to victory, just as the San Diego Padres parlayed a World Series appearance into a vote for Petco Park 10 years ago.

Yet Silverman isn't sure the Rays would have won on Election Day even had they won the World Series: "This isn't the economic climate in which to be looking to build a ballpark and finance it."

* Stop the insanity: No more talk about playing the World Series at a neutral site.

Owners could make more money from corporate America, and a warm-weather site would prevent all that annoying rain. The NFL plays the Super Bowl at a neutral site, after all, and pro football is the most popular sport in the land.

But the NFL long ago abandoned any pretense of producing a live experience for the common fan. The NFL ticket is so expensive that the ordinary fan watches on television anyway -- home game, Super Bowl, same thing.

Baseball ought not to alienate its most loyal fans, the ones who buy tickets all summer and bang thunder sticks all night. After the Phillies won, 45,000 fans stood and sang, "We Are the Champions." They had waited 15 years to see their team in the World Series -- and to see it live, not on the big screen from San Diego.

Besides, teams build around their ballparks. Chris Young is a fly-ball pitcher, an asset in Petco Park. If the Padres got into the World Series and had to play in Houston's cozy Minute Maid Park, Young might be an ace and a liability all at once.


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